Celebrating Confucius' Birthday / Teachers' Day

September 28, 2021

CAIS Faculty at Golden Gate Park during Launch Week 2021

We’re celebrating CAIS faculty (shown above gathered in Golden Gate Park for Launch Week before school started) on the birthday of the great teacher, Confucius. In honor of this two-part holiday, we have a word “duet” of thoughtful pieces from Head of School Jeff Bissell and Chinese Program Director Cindy Chiang.

Confucius’ Values at CAIS

By Head of School Jeff Bissell

Tradition Meets Today—Keeping Confucius’ Wisdom at CAIS

By Chinese Program Director Cindy Chiang

Today, September 28, is generally regarded as Confucius’s birthday. If historical records are accurate, this year would be number 2,571 for the sage. Like other seminal figures in the great religious and philosophical traditions of the world, Confucius was a wandering teacher who collected disciples over time. His oral teachings were eventually written down in a somewhat disjointed compilation of pithy sayings and longer discourses which are known as The Analects or 《论语》(Pinyin: Lún yǔ). Confucius’s ideas were elevated during the Eastern Han 汉 Dynasty (202 BCE - 9 CE) and became the foundation of government and society for centuries; indeed, like many wisdom traditions the influence of Confucian thought (both his original words and subsequent interpretations) can be seen and felt today in places such as Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, in addition to Mainland China.

But to what extent do Confucian values live in the CAIS community? This is a question I posed to the graduates of the CAIS class of 2020 last spring, when we invited them to the sprawling front lawn of 19th Avenue Campus for a graduation redux (they had graduated the previous year on Zoom, three months into the pandemic, and we wanted to bring them back together). On the occasion of Confucius’s 2,571st birthday, I want to pose this question to you too.

I have had help in articulating this question from the modern Confucian scholar Weiming Tu (Du Weiming 杜维明). Years ago at a previous job I had two of Professor Tu’s kids as my students. One time when he visited our campus in Beijing, I asked if he would speak to our students about his work; he graciously agreed. He posed five binary questions to students—either/or questions, and he insisted that everyone make a choice, regardless of nuance. He would not allow anyone to say “it depends”; “You have to make a choice!” he said with a smile. Here are the five questions:

What is more important to you:

  1. Rights or responsibilities?
  2. Freedom or justice?
  3. Rationale or compassion?
  4. Law or civility? (“Civility” is not a great translation for what Professor Tu was getting at, he meant lǐ 礼 which means something like propriety or appropriateness in a particular context.)
  5. Individualism or relationships

According to Professor Tu, his research over many years had revealed definitive patterns in how people from different cultural regions answer these questions. In countries with a strong Judeo Christian influence (such as the US), 80% of people chose the first answer of these binary pairs (ie, rights, freedom, rationale, law, and individualism). On the other hand, 80% of people from areas of the world with a strong Confucian influence (the greater China cultural region, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, for instance) chose the opposite answers (ie, responsibilities, justice, compassion, civility, and relationships). This reveals a clear and definitive cultural difference!

So, the question I have is how do our community members—students, educators, parents—answer these questions? Are our answers influenced by where we are from or, perhaps, by the education and school environment at CAIS? Would our kids answer these questions differently than kids at, say, Hamlin or San Francisco Day? Would they struggle more with the choices than their peers at places like Cathedral or Children’s Day School? I don’t know the answer to this, but I think the question is fascinating because 1) it gets at the heart of who we are and what we do at CAIS, and 2) it suggests that wisdom traditions such as Confucianism do matter, even (or perhaps especially) today. If I were offered the birthday gift of knowing that I would remain relevant two and a half millennia from now, I’d take it!

So happy birthday to the sage.

Jeff Bissell
Head of School

As we closed the curtain on the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, here we are, an exact week later, honoring another culturally meaningful holiday that is celebrated in Taiwan on September 28—Teachers’ Day 教师节 (jiào shī jié), also known as Confucius’ Birthday 孔子诞辰 (kǒng zǐ dàn chén). This is a day to celebrate our most conscientious, hard-working, professional, and talented CAIS teachers and staff!

Confucius, the most influential teacher, sage, thinker and philosopher in China, has an extraordinary impact on East Asian culture and society. Anyone who grew up in Taiwan or China can relate the progressive learning about Confucius and Confucianism from as young as Early Years to High School and has similar experiences of celebrating this day by expressing their greatest appreciation to all the teachers and educators. At CAIS, we are incredibly inspired by Confucius’ Birthday to give thanks for our wonderful faculty and to reflect on Confucius’ philosophy about education, which still resonates today.

His wisdom and dictums toward education were recorded by his followers and disciples in The Analects, a collection of short literary or philosophical extracts. One would argue that Confucius’ philosophy rooted in the ancient times may not apply to the modern world. After reviewing The Analects from a brand new perspective, Confucius’ dictums, in fact, do mirror CAIS‘s belief today as much as how they did in the past.

Confucius sought not only to give his students knowledge, but also to guide them to develop their whole character, just as how we are dedicated to instill our Core Values: Curiosity, Inclusion, Kindness, Perseverance, Courage and skills to delve into deep learning in each of our students so they will be endowed with our school mission and the strategic vision.

As we are constantly reflecting on how we educate our students, two particular teachings from The Analects exemplify the implementation of fulfilling our school mission and the strategic vision:

  • The fundamental Confucian ethic of benevolence 仁 (rén) reminds us of how we also guide our students to become 善良 (shàn liáng, “kindness”) as we Reimagine Character and Community. We teach our students to be empathetic, compassionate, and respectful, which echos Confucius’ belief in always treating others with humaneness.

  • Confucius famously said, “learning without thinking leads to confusion; thinking without learning ends in danger” (学而不思则罔,思而不学则殆). This echoes how Mandarin immersion at CAIS prepares our students to be global citizens for the world as we are aiming to teach our students not just to learn, but also to think critically and engage in metacognition to thoughtfully consider how they themselves are learning.

It’s incredible to see how these ancient educational philosophies are illustrated at CAIS, a school that has transformed these philosophies into an innovative vision and practices that we are embarking on while keeping Confucius’ wisdom rooted in every one of us as we earnestly Embrace Chinese. This demonstrates a state of harmony with Tradition and Today standing side by side.

In closing, please join us on this Confucius’ Birthday in thanking and honoring our teachers and staff who have gone above and beyond since the beginning of the school year. We are very grateful for what they are contributing to the school and for having such a significant impact on our students.

            Happy Teachers’ Day

Cindy Chiang
Chinese Program Director

Administrators Reflect on Who They Picture When They Think of the Word “Teacher”


Further Reading Recommendations from Head of School Jeff Bissell

If you are interested in reading about how Confucianism remains relevant, here are some recommendations:

Sam Crane, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Dao. Williams College professor Sam Crane is a remarkable person. Originally trained as a political scientist (at the University of Wisconsin—Go Badgers!), he turned to Chinese philosophy to deal with profound personal challenges. This book is a reflection of that journey, as he applies traditional Confucian concepts to modern American issues.

Chris Wen-chao Li, What Confucius Really Said. This book is a blast! Professor Li is from our very own San Francisco State University. This is a Skopos-centric translation of The Analects in which the entire book is rendered as a Twitter account with each saying or discourse reduced to a Tweet. I literally keep this book by the side of my bed, check it out!

于丹 Yu Dan , 《论语心得》Lun yu xinde. If you read Chinese, this might be of interest. This is Professor Yu Dan of Beijing Normal University’s highly personalized interpretation of The Analects. Professor Yu is quite the self promoter and has made almost as many television and radio appearances as Dr Faucci. She has come in for a fair amount of criticism from both genuine and wannabe Sinologists because her interpretations are so folksy and not steeped in the exegesis of thousands of years of scholarship. I just think that the crusty old scholars are jealous of her fame and popularity, and after all she is probably single-handedly responsible for more Chinese readers re-engaging with the Analects than all of the rest of the Confucian scholars from antiquity to today, so my take is, “You go, Yu Dan!” She also has a book that has been translated into English called Confucius from the Heart which is on my bookshelf but I haven’t cracked it open yet.